Leader of the Venezuelan Congress urges dialogue with Biden

Leader of the Venezuelan Congress urges dialogue with Biden

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CARACAS (AP) – Jorge Rodríguez, leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly and a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, said on Friday that he is hopeful that the government of President-elect Joe Biden will reverse the “cruel” policy of sanctions by United States and create spaces for diplomatic efforts that could lead to the reopening of the US embassy and the release of several imprisoned Americans.

Rodríguez made his comments in his first interview since taking the helm of the National Assembly despite protests from the United States, the European Union and local opponents.

Offering an olive branch to the next US president, Rodríguez said Venezuela’s ruling party is eager for a new beginning after four years of incessant attacks by the Trump administration, which it believes have not only exacerbated the suffering of the Venezuelans and failed to get Maduro to leave the presidency, but also punished American investors who have historically been important in the South American nation.


“All points and all issues are on the table,” he said, including the future of the six Venezuelan-American oil executives arrested on corruption charges and two former Green Berets arrested for a failed attempt to overthrow Maduro.

It is unknown whether the Biden government will accept the attempt at rapprochement or continue with the heavy-handed policy it is inheriting, which calls for regime change. Much depends on the treatment you decide to give Juan Guaidó, president of the outgoing National Assembly, whom the Trump administration considers the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Past attempts to establish a dialogue between the government and the opposition have failed to unblock the political stalemate in the country, and Maduro has reaffirmed his grip on power. Meanwhile, an end to an economic crisis that has forced millions to emigrate, and that has caused those who still live in Venezuela to suffer from a shortage of basic goods, including gasoline, is not on the horizon, despite the fact that the country has the largest oil reserves in the world.


Rodríguez refused to endorse his supporters’ calls for him to imprison Guaidó, saying instead he was willing to talk with the former legislative president.

“The new National Assembly is the call for a dialogue process as broad as possible,” said Rodríguez from the headquarters of the neoclassical-style legislature located in the heart of Caracas.


But he warned that the talks will only be successful if Guaidó and his allies apologize for conspiring to overthrow Maduro and for backing the freeze on Venezuela’s oil assets abroad, something that, he said, has hurt Venezuelans amid the pandemic .

“If you resort to amnesia to begin a reconciliation process, you run the risk that that will not happen,” said Rodríguez, a psychiatrist by training. “You run the risk that serious situations will replay.”


Rodríguez, 55, was among the candidates loyal to Maduro who won more than 90% of the seats on December 6, in an election boycotted by Guaidó and the main opposition parties. The United States, the European Union and several Latin American neighbors rejected the elections as undemocratic after several parties were prohibited from running for candidates. Voter turnout was just 31%, the lowest in years.

Still, Rodríguez rejected criticism that he is presiding over a submissive legislature, the last branch of the Venezuelan government that had been outside the control of the ruling party until the recent elections.


As president of the National Assembly, Rodríguez is second in line for a possible presidential succession, behind his younger sister, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez. Both are among Maduro’s staunchest civilian supporters, and their leftist credentials are honed from an early age, as his father, a Socialist League activist, died in 1976 in police custody after being tortured.

In his early days in office, Rodríguez approved a special commission to punish those responsible for what the government considers crimes against Venezuela, something critics say is a ruse to go after opponents. He said such crimes include maneuvers to block the Maduro government’s access to $ 2 billion in gold deposited in a London bank and control of the Citgo refineries in the United States, the country’s largest asset abroad.


But he has also called for dialogue, a dubious possibility given the failure of previous negotiation attempts that were promoted by Norway and the Vatican, and in which Rodríguez participated on behalf of the Maduro government.

Rodríguez’s loyalty to the Bolivarian revolution has come at a cost to him. In 2018, the Trump administration sanctioned him for considering him a close friend of Maduro.

Rodríguez previously served as vice president of the late President Hugo Chávez, among a long list of jobs, which includes the mayor of Caracas, head of the National Electoral Council and Minister of Communications in the Maduro government.

As Maduro’s unofficial chief harangue, with a gift for public speaking admired by friends and foes alike, he is frequently present – albeit off camera – in the president’s speeches on state television. In his new post, he is expected to remain at the forefront of bitter relations with the United States now that Biden takes office and sets his own foreign policy.

Analysts say Biden has limited options for reversing the tough oil sanctions imposed as part of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. But the failure of the heavy-handed policy to overthrow the South American president could leave room for diplomacy.

The United States and Venezuela severed relations in 2019 shortly after the White House recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela, claiming that Maduro’s recent re-election was invalid. Both nations immediately withdrew their diplomats and the US embassy remains closed.

Rodríguez said he is hopeful of reaching an understanding with Washington, one that will benefit not only Venezuelans, but also oil companies and US bondholders who have lost billions of dollars as a result of a freeze on any business dealings with it. Maduro government.

“We insist that it is a good opportunity so that, by leaving or appeasing the political situation and the virulence and aggressiveness, that we can do what Venezuela has historically done: good business with the United States,” he said.

But reaching that goal requires Biden to be willing.

In what could be an indication that there is no rush to change the current position, the president-elect has invited Guaidó’s envoy in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, to attend his swearing-in, according to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington. Biden’s transition team declined to comment.

“The whole world is waiting for the president to assume the presidency of the United States of America in a few hours,” said Rodríguez. “Hopefully he will abandon what has done so much damage to the people of Venezuela, but which was also completely unsuccessful.”


Goodman reported from Miami.


Smith is on Twitter as: @ScottSmithAP and Goodman as: @APJoshGoodman


Ben Oakley
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